How many worlds have they saved? How many enemies have they annihilated? How many princesses and princes have they nailed? Below you will find the 50 greatest heroes to ever grace a Microsoft console. You'll find big, bombastic blokes who’ve left a path of destruction on their way to victory, sexy sheilas more nimble than a Russian circus cat and even non-humanoid beasties from across the galaxy who’ve fought for the powers of good despite their hideously ugly mugs.
Think we’ve missed anyone in particular? Don’t agree with the order? Please let us know in the comments below. Now get a move on young game enthusiast and take a walk down memory lane as we celebrate the 50 greatest characters to grace the Xbox or Xbox 360.
(And before you leave, be sure to read this gem’s sister article, The Complete History of Microsoft)
Half-Life 2, Episode One and Episode Two
Making his first appearance in Half-Life 2 as part of a tutorial for the legendary gravity gun, Dog has since become one of Half-Life’s many celebrated characters, often turning up just in the nick of time to save Gordon Freeman and his owner, Alyx Vance. Rather than just being functional, though, Dog manages to stick in your mind for act after act of incredible strength, agility, and bravery. He really is a man’s best friend.
49. Johnny Napalm
Guitar Hero II, Guitar Hero III
The crazed punk has become synonymous with all things Guitar Hero over the years. That familiar skinny frame with the lime-green hairdo is one of the first images that comes into your head after those gems and frets have disappeared into the backs of your retina, and his Star Power-fuelled spaz-outs are legendary. One of the Guitar Hero greats, but will he make an appearance in World Tour? Only Neversoft knows.
Street Fighter Anniversary Collection, Marvel vs. Capcom 2
The poster boy for the Street Fighter series has always been Ryu. He’s been fighting in streets since the beginning, and he would only let Ken have a go if he fought him first, beating down opponents with his toned-down version of the Ansatsuken techniques. Constantly roaming the world in search of better fighters, he has been trounced by SF III’s Oro, but this just fills him with the motivation to fight even harder. All without actually killing anyone, of course.
47. A Worm
Worms 3D, Worms 4: Mayhem, Worms
The worms are the classic, unassuming, violent wee buggers. Armed to the teeth, their only objective is to wipe out all the other worms that don’t belong on their team. This leads to hilarity. With their bazookas, cluster bombs, fire punches, and dragon balls, the worms have all the tools to destroy not only each other but the level as well. Over the years the worms may have gained some more weapons and an extra dimension, but their core appeal remains undiminished.
Beyond Good & Evil
Being the lead character in a truly unique and brilliantly created game can’t do your credentials any harm, but Jade would have shone in just about any game. She’s exactly the kind of smart, feisty, and talented character people can grow to love, and she can drive the narrative in a game. She didn’t need to flash the flesh to get attention like some characters we could mention, either. All she needed was her brains and a camera.
45. Razputin ‘Raz’ Aquato
Tim Schafer has been a master of character creation for a long time, and this tale of psychic spies in a psychedelic world is no exception. Raz is the linchpin of your journey through Schafer’s bizarre mind. As ever, his backstory is a maze of convoluted reasoning to justify gameplay choices, making Raz totally at home in his world. Most importantly, he is probably the strongest new platform hero of the last decade. It’s all in the goggles.
44. Saren Arterius
From Darth Vader to Hannibal Lecter, there’s little else we like more from our fiction than a great bad guy, and we like them all the better when there’s some repressed and perhaps misguided rage motivating their actions. Saren ticks all of those boxes with his ruthlessness and aggression. His character is so attractive that you can easily find yourself mimicking his nature when you play as Shepard and end up being just as crooked and evil as he has become.
43. King Of All Cosmos
How can we explain the appeal of the King of all Cosmos? Is it his dapper sense of dress? Is it the aplomb with which he wears purple tights? Ultimately, we believe, we love the King for all his flaws: his egotism, clumsiness, and disregard for health and safety. He is the ultimate misfit and the idea that he should be in charge of the universe makes us very happy indeed.
How many people would have trudged through Lost Odyssey’s 50-plus hours if it weren’t for the comic relief of the oddly dre ssed Jansen? A drunk, a flirt, a show-off, and as close to Owen Wilson as you can get without a suicide attempt. His mutterings at the tail ends of cut-scenes made Lost Odyssey’s story one of the most enjoyable around. Surely among the most appealing characters in any RPG ever.
41. John ‘Soap’ McTavish
Call Of Duty 4
Quite how the silent, faceless Soap McTavish made it into the top 50 might be a little bit of a mystery. Call Of Duty’s characters are the supporting cast, not the protagonist, but perhaps it’s his amusing name and the fact that he dishes out all kinds of arse-kicking at every opportunity. There was a bit of debate, but here he is: the most ridiculously named character in war game history.
40. ‘Little’ Jacob Hughes
Grand Theft Auto IV
Like so many other characters from GTA IV, it is probably the fact that Little Jacob never once turns against you that makes him so important to you by the end. Friends you can rely on have always been hard to find in Rockstar’s world, and those you get are worth keeping. They’re even more valuable if they can sell you guns at bargain basement prices, of course, making Jacob both useful and good company. It’s good to know who your friends are.
39. Jimmy Hopkins
Bully: Scholarship Edition
He seems like such a nice lad… pfft, does he bollocks. The hard case ranga has been expelled from nearly every school he’s ever attended, though this might be a cry for help brought on by his unstable family (parents divorced; uncaring mother always going on cruises with new boyfriends). But while he might go around starting fights, playing truant, and shoving people into lockers, he does have a few morals and he’s very open-minded when it comes to who he finds attractive.
38. The Dragon Of Destruction
Panzer Dragoon Orta
In a game that is relatively sparse in terms of characterisation, it can be small gestures and outbursts of emotion that grab your attention, and so it is with Panzer Dragoon Orta. As a rail shooter it has no real need for interesting characters – just strong set pieces and gameplay – but the Dragon upon which Orta rides feels so alive that a genuine bond begins to form. When he’s hit, the scream sends shivers down your spine and your sympathy rises.
37. Spider Splicer
Creepy bastards, these lot. A pain in the arse, too. The first time a splicer takes to the walls and roof in BioShock, though, is a pretty memorable experience. It makes a flat-planed shooter fully three-dimensional and it ramps the paranoia up to near-unbearable levels. Their twisted smiles and contorted limbs flash in front of your eyes like a strobe light in the pits of hell, and before you know it, it’s back to the regeneration chamber…
Dead Or Alive 3, DOA Xtreme Beach Volleyball, DOA4
Kasumi’s appeal is no great mystery, is it? As the merciful ninja who avoids confrontation but finds herself again and again having to defeat challengers, she’s just another heroine based on a well-loved archetype. Comparisons could perhaps be made with David Carradine’s Caine in Kung Fu. Of course, that unique outfit, a favourite with cosplayers around the world, doesn’t hurt either. Carradine just wouldn’t have looked as good in it.
35. Brucie Kibbutz
Grand Theft Auto IV
Most of us know someone who is a bit like Brucie and perhaps that’s part of his charm. His body obsession and desire for perfection in his life strikes a chord with all of us who are constantly bombarded by images of the ‘perfect’ body and lifestyle. Most importantly, though, Brucie is sincere in his admiration and loyalty to Niko, which, against the backdrop of back-stabbing and double-crossing, makes him a true friend to you throughout.
34. Alma Wade
Derivative she may be, but Alma remains unique in the gaming world as being a genuinely memorable and haunting character from a horror game. While other similarly-styled girls with bloody footprints carry on anonymously, the growing and ever-bloodier presence of Alma has great impact. It’s really thanks to her and her alone that Monolith’s pseudo-sequel, Project Origin, remains one of our most anticipated games.
33. Carl ‘CJ’ Johnson
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
The most humble and – initially, at least – remorseful of all of the Grand Theft Auto anti-heroes. Carl Johnson is just looking out for his family, until the temptation and greed eventually corrupts him. Also one of the first strong African-American lead characters in any major videogame, which is interesting enough on its own. And he’s a dab hand on a BMX, that’s for sure.
32. The Prince
Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time, Warrior Within, Two Thrones
Like a box of Roses, the Xbox featured a Prince to cater for every taste. For the straight chocolate fans there was the Sands Prince. If you liked something darker and more bitter, but perhaps less universally liked (Turkish Delight) there was Warrior Prince. Finally, there was Throne Prince, who seemed more like the original but didn’t quite sit right (Hazelnut). Between them we were left with a great, traditional hero.
31. Darth Revan
Knights Of The Old Republic
There’s little else we like more than a panto villain, except perhaps the true evil behind it. BioWare loves that kind of conceit, having repeated it for Mass Effect, but Darth Revan is arguably the stronger example of this concept. Revan’s identity and whereabouts are hidden for the better part of the game as you concentrate on the pursuit of Darth Malak, but you really can’t prepare for the big reveal to come. Truly brilliant.
SoulCalibur, SoulCalibur II
So strong, so stoic, so deadly. Mitsurugi is the epitome of Soulcalibur: all cool, all-powerful, and all-conquering. His moves list is ocean deep, but players can get by with just a few double taps and button pushes. In Soul Blade he had an interactive end sequence where he tried to kill a man with a gun, and in Soulcalibur IV he devastates anyone who comes near him.
29. Tommy Vercetti
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Breaking the mould of the silent protagonist could have been a risky move, but in making Ray Liotta the voice behind Vice City’s up-and-coming crime lord Tommy Vercetti, Rockstar struck a winning chord. While the character riffs on Tony Montana throughout the game, Liotta’s speeches give him a reckless sense of humour that makes him more likeable than old Scarface. He proves to be no less brutal by the game’s end, though.
28. Sergeant Johnson
Halo, Halo 2, Halo 3
No hiding the influence here: Sergeant Johnson is Sergeant Apone from Aliens. Same hat, same accent (almost), very similar features, and even a cigar. He’s a likeable fellow, in truth, helping out the vastly taller Master Chief wherever possible, barking out orders and generally looking important. He meets an untimely demise in Halo 3, but he helps to save the universe at the same time, so good on him.
27. Ethan Thomas
Condemned, Condemned 2
Drunk, tired, desolate, and possessed by evil forces. Just your usual cop on the beat, then. Despite changing his entire face in the period between Condemned and its sequel, Bloodshot, Thomas has won a place in our hearts, and yours too, due to his unrelenting ability to punch, bludgeon, and generally fell any tramp that gets in his way. He’s a skilled brawler, that’s for sure. Wonder if he’ll change his face again for the next game?
Sonic Heroes, Sonic The Hedgehog, Sega Superstars Tennis
Sonic’s travails since losing the solid base of a Sega-owned platform have been well-documented, and while we still feel that he has yet to show himself in the best light up until now, there’s still a lot of love out there for him. His best showings have probably been Sonic Heroes on the Xbox and the XBLA conversions of his original Mega Drive games. However, we have yet to concede that his best years are behind him.
25. Big Daddy
The process of making a Big Daddy is somewhat horrendous, involving steam-grafting the suit to a human’s skin, having their minds wiped by various plasmids, and finally being given super strength and agility. There are various types of Big Daddy, but they all share a protective streak that is their last shred of humanity. At first they are monstrosities, but, as BioShock unfolds, you begin to see the broken heart beneath the armour and sympathy reigns.
24. Anthony Carmine
Gears Of War
Oh, Carmine, you poor little man. Never should you have stuck your head out when your gun jammed. How different life on Sera could have been. For little more than a bit-part player, Carmine has quite the following. Entire websites have been dedicated to the altogether unimpressive little COG, and while his ability as a sniper can’t be denied, his spatial awareness leaves a little to be desired. Can’t beat those glowing blue eyes for coolness, though.
23. Roman Bellic
Grand Theft Auto IV
With GTA IV taking on a much darker and more serious tone, it was important that there be someone who could act as comic relief throughout the game and, for the most part, Roman fit the bill. However, as the game progressed, he also began to act as an emotional anchor who played off the increasingly distraught Niko to great effect. If Niko manages to keep hold of any shred of humanity by the end, some credit must go to Roman.
22. Frank West
He’s just a photojournalist looking for a scoop, and what he got was one of the biggest scoops ever… of brains! Landing at a mall in the town of Willamette, Frank finds himself surrounded by zombies and idiots as well as conspiracies, government cover-ups, and psycho killers. But as he progresses, uncovering the secrets behind the zombie invasion, Frank levels up in superb ways and is able to take down multiple zombies with some very special moves, not to mention all the weapons lying around everywhere.
21. Alyx Vance
Half-Life 2, Episode One, Episode Two
Supporting characters, particularly those that follow you for large portions of a game and who you have no control over, can be a tricky business. However, Valve has proven again and again that it is a master of character-driven storytelling. Alyx is a rich character who’s supportive in all the best ways, offering advice and an extra gun as and when needed. She’s incredibly endearing, to the point that you really care for her by Episode Two.
20. Joanna Dark
Perfect Dark Zero
Perfect Dark Zero may not have been the greatest entry for Joanna Dark to make on the Xbox 360, but it was enough to get her noticed, and, ultimately, her incredible skills and resilience have got her into the top 20. Regardless of the final quality of the game, Joanna’s qualities were undiminished from her first appearance on the N64, and while there may seem to be little profit in it, we’d still like to see her return to our screens soon.
19. Jackie Estacado
Jackie turned up on the Xbox 360 with a great deal more anticipation than we might have expected. Starbreeze, the developer who brought The Darkness from the comic page to the HD screen, had managed to garner a richly deserved reputation for storytelling. Jackie stands out as one of the great leading men in recent years. His inner turmoil and dark soul make him compelling both to play as and to watch throughout the game.
18. Commander Shepard
Despite being a character largely created by you, the player, Shepard’s place in this list comes as no great surprise to us. As ever, BioWare did a great job of developing the character down many different paths so that no matter what route you took, you always felt there was a satisfying conclusion. Shepard ultimately becomes what you make him/her, but the rich wells of characterisation you get to pick from are all thanks to BioWare.
17. The Arbiter
Halo 2, Halo 3
The foil to the Master Chief and one of the coolest sidekicks around. The Arbiter lends gravitas and a touch of comic relief to all the intergalactic blasting. In many ways, he’s actually better than Chiefy: he’s taller, he’s wiser, and, in Halo 2 at least, he could turn invisible. Quite why he decided to unlearn that particular ability is a mystery, but he’s still got a place in our hearts, mainly for that flame-thrower incident in Halo 3. Good man… alien.
16. Gordon Freeman
Half-Life 2, Episode One, Episode Two
No one has done more for the reputations and street cred of theoretical physicists than Valve. Some have said that Gordon Freeman’s appeal has something to do with his everyman qualities, his nerdiness, but such things are never suggested by the game, only perceived by the player. Freeman may only be a vessel for the player, but the reverence in which others hold him is contagious. He becomes the hero that others need him to be.
15. Ryo Hazuki
Despite always looking for sailors and an inability to find black cars, Ryo Hazuki still proves to be a badass in the fighting ring and he’s not too bad at lifting crates, airing out library books, and attending Lucky Hit stalls. After some truly great battles and investigative gameplay full of exciting QTEs, Ryo proves himself to be the master of walking as he heads towards the fabled Shenmue itself. We’re still holding our breath for Shenmue III, even if it means we’ll probably die.
Knights Of The Old Republic, KOTOR II
What is there to say about this glorious Hunter Killer droid that hasn’t been said before? HK-47 is one of the all-time great Star Wars characters, not just a great videogame character. His acerbic temperament, comic timing, and intricately woven backstory really add extra layers of depth to both KOTOR and its sequel. He may be a simple mechanoid, but it’s no surprise to us that he is celebrated above all others from those games.
13. Lara Croft
Tomb Raider: Legend, Tomb Raider: Anniversary
With her plummy voice and, let’s say, ‘athletic’ breasts, Lara Croft has been… entertaining us since her first appearance on the PSone. The quality of the Tomb Raider games has undulated over the years, but that hasn’t stopped Lara being a cultural icon, advertising whore, and The Face magazine cover model. Lara’s next game, Underworld, promises a return to her tomb-raiding roots instead of shooting everything up.
12. Augustus ‘Cole Train’ Cole
Gears Of War
Who could ever forget the Gears Of War rap? Oh, you did? Well, finish the game again, suckas! The Cole Train injected a much-needed dose of comedy and personality into the grunting COGs, making us chuckle as we sliced through the Locust army. And he was voiced by Terry Tate, the amazing Office Linebacker (check YouTube), making Cole Train every kind of awesome. Better than Robbie Coltraine? You’d better believe it.
11. Agent 47
Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, Hitman: Contracts, Hitman: Blood Money
He’s cold; so very cold. It’s not his fault; he was just made that way. Everyone’s favourite emotionless clone and silent killing machine, Agent 47, has offed so many targets in his time that if you piled up all the bodies they would reach to the moon, or Saturn if you’ve been playing it wrong. His image may have been almost ruined by the terrible film, but he will always remain as one of gaming’s greatest anti-heroes.
10. Ryu Hayabusa
Ninja Gaiden, Dead Or Alive 4, Ninja Gaiden II
Wielder of the Dragon Sword, Ryu Hayabusa excels in combat, both armed and unarmed. In the Ninja Gaiden series he cut his foes apart while protecting his village, and indeed the world, from dark forces attempting resurrect the Archfiend and steal the Dark Dragon Sword. In Dead Or Alive he managed to take down Tengu by himself, probably with his Flying Swallow attack, and he even excelled over all the other blokes in the film by managing to get into the semi-finals.
Devil May Cry 4
One of the sons of the demon knight Sparda – let’s not forget Vergil or Nero, for that matter – is clearly one of the coolest characters ever to combine sword and gunplay with an awesome coat. Although he took a bit of a back seat in the only DMC game to be released on a Microsoft console, his strength was felt when you eventually got to control him. Brash, cocky, and confident, Dante oozes cool from every pore, and as well as looking good, he has a great personality, too!
Call Of Duty 2, Call Of Duty 4
The most familiar of the Call Of Duty supporting cast and a damn fine army man indeed. His awesome handlebar moustache has earned Price the nickname ‘Uncle Pringles’ in China, which is probably the greatest nickname of all time. His finest hour? Undoubtedly ‘All Ghillied Up’, Call Of Duty 4’s defining mission and one of the best FPS levels of all time. What a guy; what a ’tache.
7. Sam Fisher
Splinter Cell, Pandora Tomorrow, Chaos Theory, Double Agent
While Sam has seen fit to ply his trade on pretty much every format known to man, his home still feels like the Xbox PlayStation owners had Solid Snake, we had this darker, meaner, tougher, and more realistic hero to look up to. Sam is a Clancy protagonist in the greatest sense of that tradition, even though Clancy never created him. He’s a man of action rather than words and a lone wolf, and sometimes, you’ve just got to respect that.
6. Urdnot Wrex
Like many of BioWare’s strongest characters of the past, what finally settles the matter of Urdnot Wrex’s brilliance is the revelatory plot twists that his presence brings about. However, before any of that happens, his no-nonsense approach, cool head, and poignant speeches single him out as someone very special. You can end up sacrificing a great deal for him, but it always seems worth it regardless.
It strikes us as oddly apt that the imposing villain of Portal should be both our highest ranking non-human and our highest-ranking female. Her influence on the growing popularity of The Orange Box’s bonus game is undeniable, but you could never have predicted that at the beginning. GLaDOS really develops through the game, becoming more menacing, funnier, and, bizarrely, more endearing as you go. We actually felt sorry for her by the end.
4. AltaÃ¯r Ibn-La’Ahad
Not everybody was overly enamoured with Assassin’s Creed, but we have nothing but respect for its protagonist, AltaÃ¯r. As an avatar for your control there hadn’t been a character so well-animated and so in tune with his environment. AltaÃ¯r truly exists in that world; he can touch it and obviously use it to his advantage. If everything about the game he inhabited had been as polished and brilliant as him, we certainly would have felt very differently about Assassin’s Creed.
3. Marcus Fenix
Gears Of War
There as something about Marcus Fenix that just seemed to epitomise the image of the Xbox 360 at that moment in time: big, bold, brash, and hard as nails. This was a new hero for a new generation of consoles, and he came in curb-stomping and chainsawing his way to the top of the charts. But behind all this is a clearly wounded, perhaps even emotionally deadened, human being, and that really resonates as the game progresses. Fenix’s legend can only grow.
2. Niko Bellic
Grand Theft Auto IV
It was a close-run thing for Niko in our poll, as his incredibly strong showing in GTA IV shot him to universal acclaim and appreciation. Few characters in videogame history have provided us with such a spectrum of emotions. Niko’s tale is such a rollercoaster ride that by the climax you’d be forgiven for feeling exhausted and perhaps even a little numb. For his part, Niko’s tortured soul, the gradual revelations about his past life, and his eventual struggle for redemption are thoroughly gripping. As this poll has proven, there are very few characters that can hold a candle to him.
1. Master Chief Petty Officer John-117
Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2, Halo 3
What makes an icon? You may as well ask ‘what makes a hero?’ If either of these questions could ever be answered then this list would probably look very different, but John-117 has come to embody both of these personas. There are plenty of memorable characters in the preceding pages, some of whom have long histories stretching back far beyond the Xbox or Xbox 360, and yet there was very little doubt that the Chief would emerge victorious.
Critics paint him as generic, metaphorically and literally faceless, and lacking in personality. Master Chief certainly carries archetypal qualities that may be interpreted as bland, but they are no different to those of any heroic figure. He is a man without fear, who thinks nothing of self-sacrifice, and these are qualities somewhat lacking in an age where anti-heroes prevail. Yes, he wears a mask and we can never use his face to read his emotions, but we have no need of them. In their place we have the esteem in which others hold him within the Halo universe, his unnerving dedication to duty, and his ceaseless drive.
As for lacking in personality, that is obviously a conscious decision on the part of Bungie to allow you, the player, to impose your own character upon him, but then did Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name (an inspiration for Master Chief) feel like he lacked a personality? Master Chief’s lack of character actually broadens and intensifies his appeal. It makes those subtle moments where the human being behind the armour reveals himself all the more poignant and your bond with him that much stronger.
The rousing music, the immediately identifiable and now iconic armour, and the stupendous odds that are stacked against him all help to lift Master Chief up, and while none of this is necessarily unique, Bungie’s execution of them to elevate its lead character has never been bettered. There really is something very special about John-117, and that’s why he tops this chart. Hail to the Chief.
For Further Reading:
This story was originally published in issue 7 of Australian 360 Magazine